Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sacred Heart vs. Quinnipiac - Game Preview!

It’s time for my first ever game preview.  Now is as good a time as any, since I need to cease spending my free time reading about the Mets medical staff’s mismanagement of injuries or how Mark Wahlberg could have prevented 9/11.  Instead, how about I preview tomorrow night’s Northeast Conference battle at the Pitt, Quinnipiac (9-8, 2-4 NEC) versus Sacred Heart (8-11, 2-4 NEC)?  Let’s proceed!

The Last Meeting:
Tom Moore and his Quinnipiac Bobcats had their five game winning streak over Sacred Heart (SHU) snapped, after the Pioneers surprisingly disposed of the Bobcats last month in Hamden, 68-55.  SHU held Quinnipiac to a season low 31% shooting from the field, which helped offset Quinnipiac’s dominance on the boards (what else is new) and Justin Swidowski being in foul trouble.  The biggest difference in the game was Quinnipiac’s atrocious free-throw shooting – the Bobcats missed 11 of 20 free throws and were outscored 20-9 by SHU at the charity stripe.

Why Do We Care About the Game:
Because every NEC conference game matters!  Both squads have struggled of late and now find themselves in the bottom half of the NEC standings at 2-4.  The loser of this game will essentially be five games back to the soon-to-be 7-0 LIU Blackbirds (assuming they defeat Mount St. Mary’s at home), therefore keeping pace with the upper echelon of the NEC is paramount.  For SHU, this game is the first game of a critical four game homestand that concludes with CCSU, Wagner, and Mount St. Mary’s.  For Quinnipiac, they can finally put the unfortunate campus fight incident behind them, and start building toward joining the NEC elite with a respectable road win.

What Does Sacred Heart Need to Do to Win:
1) Defend, defend, defend!  Offensively, Sacred Heart is third in the conference in points scored and tied for first in assists.  The problem?  They are allowing 1.04 points per possession defensively, which places them in the bottom third of the NEC. 

2) Do their best to contain Ike Azotam, Ousmane Drame, and the rest of Quinnipiac's front-court on the offensive glass, which means Swidowski must stay out of foul trouble.  When Quinnipiac has 10 offensive rebounds or less in a game, they are 1-4.  That lone win came against Robert Morris, when they shot an uncharacteristic 59% from the floor.  Their average shooting percentage for the year is 45%, so I don’t think you can count on a shooting performance like that again.

What Does Quinnipiac Need to Do to Win:
1) Have a decent shooting performance from all points on the court.  Specifically, Quinnipiac must get to the line and convert those free throws.  Seems simple enough but when the Bobcats shoot 65% or less from the line, they are 2-7 on the season.  With Quinnipiac dominating the glass as often as they do, they will find themselves at the line quite a bit.  They must take advantage of those freebies.   

2) Cut off the SHU’s secondary players.  Shane Gibson, who leads the NEC in scoring, will get his points.  The key to limiting the Pioneer’s offense is to focus on the second, third, and fourth scoring options behind Gibson and to defend the three-point shot.  Freshman Steve Glowiak has drained 6 three-pointers in the past two games, so Quinnipiac must not allow players like Glowiak to get into any kind of rhythm.

What to Watch For:
The Pioneers have been banged up of late with the statuses of Evan Kelley (ankle) and Justin Swidowski (shoulder) unknown prior to the game.  Will they be ready to play?  If not, the Pioneer’s depth will be severely limited and Nick Greenbacker or Femi Akinpetide, both of whom have been quite unproductive according to efficiency ratings, will be forced to play big minutes.

Final Prediction:
I believe this is a coin-flip game, but I’ll naturally go with the home team.  The Pioneers will get a home boost from the crowd (I sure hope there’s more than 1,000 fans there) leading to a spirited defense effort that hinders the outside shooting of Quinnipiac.  In the end, the Pioneers seal off a tight game down the stretch with their superior free throw shooting.  Sacred Heart 66, Quinnipiac 64

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